Drug Facts Chat Day: Ecstasy (MDMA and Molly)

How does Ecstasy affect the brain and what are some of its long-term effects?

Ecstasy is also known as “Molly” and MDMA (for the chemical methylenedioxymethamphetamine). It is a type of amphetamine, but it also produces effects similar to some hallucinogens. It affects the brain by increasing the activity of at least three neurotransmitters (the chemical messengers of brain cells): serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. Ecstasy causes these neurotransmitters to be released from their storage sites in neurons, resulting in increased neurotransmitter activity.

We know from studies in animals that Ecstasy can produce long-lasting damage to serotonin neurons. Serotonin is important in regulating mood, sleep, body temperature, pain, and other critical functions. In fact, some of the medications used to treat depression directly target this system. From imaging the brains of people, we find that there are changes in this system too, but we do not know how long those changes last. People who use Ecstasy tend to get depressed or anxious and to have trouble remembering recent events. These effects can be short-lived or longer-lasting depending on how much drug is used, how often, and whether or not other drugs are also being used (marijuana is fairly common in people who use Ecstasy). Some people who use Ecstasy also have other difficulties with their abilities to make decisions and with their sleeping patterns. Of course, you will likely suffer more severe problems if you use Ecstasy often or in large amounts.

What is Molly?

Molly—slang for “molecular”—refers to the pure crystalline powder form of the club drug Ecstasy—also called MDMA. Molly is usually purchased as capsules. However, it is really repackaged Ecstasy. Ecstasy in any form produces energy and euphoria but also may dangerously affect body temperature and cause confusion, depression, and sleep problems.

People who want to sell you Molly claim it is pure, without the substances, substitutes, or additives commonly found in pills sold as Ecstasy. These additives might be caffeine, methamphetamine, and other harmful drugs. But those who purchase Molly because they think it is safer than Ecstasy may actually be exposing themselves to the same risks. Hundreds of Molly capsules tested in two Florida crime labs in 2012, for example, contained dangerous additives and were not at all pure.